May 20 , 2006)
Hating Muslims is a Natural Thing in Gujarat
This is probably the only state that has a sizeable number of Muslims but no Urdu paper
Gujarat has become an intolerable place; at least that is how I find it. Today, there are very few people I can talk to in Gujarat because they simply do not understand basic things, or don’t want to. I can make myself a very comfortable citizen of Vadodara. But the problem is, I cannot talk to the people of this city; it is like walking in the desert. I find the popular myth of Gujaratis being peace-loving people impossible to believe. How could all the riots, so many of them since 1969, have happened if this were true? I have thought about this deeply and my sense is that violence is an attribute of their acquisitive nature. Gujaratis are extremely acquisitive people. They will do anything to acquire. The most decent people here, people I would otherwise respect, would do anything to get a visa to the United States, even resort to cheating and dishonesty. They are hungry to acquire. Even Gujarati devotion is about acquiring. They have an exchange relationship with God — I give you devotion, you give me riches.
The Muslim hatred practiced here is not conscious or learnt. It is just somehow normal, as nature would have meant it to be. There is no bitterness of Partition here, as is the case with Punjab. There is only the deep, almost genetic, knowledge of Somnath and the invasions and an accumulation of prejudices. Then there is a huge void in their memory until Gandhi arrives.
Gandhi, I have to say, is not a popular man in Gujarat; they merely pay him lip service. You do not become a bad man in Gujarat if you hate Muslims; you are normal. Decent people hate Muslims. And it is not a city phenomenon alone; this is true of villages as well. If a Muslim is traumatised, it is a normal thing. Just to give a sense of how Gujarati Hindus relate to Muslims, I will come to the Narmada issue. Gujarat is extremely pro-dam and, therefore, extremely anti-Medha Patkar. Gujaratis will call all pro-Medha people Muslims. Intolerance in Gujarat is unanimous. If Muslims are hated, entire Gujarat will hate them. If Medha is seen as an ‘enemy’, all of Gujarat will look at her as an enemy. In that sense, Gujarat has treated Medha as much an ‘enemy’ or a ‘fundamentalist’ as Muslims are treated. The minds have got locked here. The culture of disagreement and dissent is pervasively shunned. This is so even when Gujarat is not a feudal state in terms of its economic makeup.
Some years ago, Habib Tanvir wanted to come and stay and work in Vadodara. He did not find a house for six months. Eventually, he went back. Some of us tried to find him a place to stay, but nobody was willing. My own landlord at the time, a perfectly decent man otherwise, refused. Raoof Valiullah, an honest and purposeful Congress MP was killed by gangsters in the centre of Ahmedabad a few years ago. Not even the Congress party made a noise about it. I think because Raoof was a Muslim. There was no sense of loss or outrage when Ehsan Jafri was killed. There is no political or ideological divide in Gujarat on the Muslim question; even the Congress hates Muslims.
I have a young Muslim associate who has been pursuing post-graduate studies. After the 2002 violence, I suddenly noticed that he was having a problem trying to form his sentences while speaking. He used to write clearly but I saw that his writing too was breaking up. In fact, he wasn’t able to write. This was a typical case of aphasia, which is a condition of loss of speech and articulation caused by external trauma. Gujarat is probably the only state that has a sizeable Muslim population but no Urdu paper. I wonder if there is something to it, a state of collective aphasia. I often wonder how it must feel to be a Muslim in Gujarat. I shudder to think what it must require to live at the wrong end of so much hatred, contempt and threat. Do they have a strategy of reaction? Is something in the process of evolving? I do not know.
A Sahitya Akademi Award winner, Devy is founder-director of the Tribal Academy in Tejgarh, Gujarat.
(As told to Sankarshan Thakur)